Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos: “Barnstormers” of the 21st Century

Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos: "Barnstormers" of the 21st Century |  Science

During the 1920s, aviation festivals became popular in the United States (some called them “circuses”). The Great War has recently ended. Many young pilots who had earned their wings by controlling those primitive biplanes returned home. Some were looking for a way to make a living using their newly acquired skills. After all, there weren’t many people who could boast of an experience that brought with it an aura of almost ruthless courage.

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At the end of the hostilities, the US military offset the excess war effort, which was no longer necessary, for a ridiculously low amount. AND Curtiss training biplane Jenny, originally priced at around $ 5,000, was offered for $ 200, still in its original box. It is said that some were liquidated for only $ 50.

Thanks to the availability of cheap planes and unemployed pilots, air shows are multiplying, almost improvising. After a massive bombing of advertising leaflets, several planes appeared over the city and landed on a farm field (previously it agreed with their owner). They parked not far from the barn and the next day a parade was held. This could include low-level risky stunts, rope walkers, co-pilot transfers from one aircraft to another, or even fake air battles. On one occasion, to the enthusiasm of the parish, a bombing of a small wooden battleship moored in the harbor was organized in San Francisco.

Most of the city’s inhabitants had never seen an airplane up close on the great plains of the Midwest. And much less, he flew into it. Now, for a fee of three to five dollars, any farmer in Nebraska could fly a quarter of an hour over his city. It is true that experience had its risks: In general, these facilities were poorly maintained (they were done by their own pilots and tried to reduce costs as much as possible). On the other hand, as these flights lacked the slightest standard or regulation, child care they could embark on the most risky maneuvers. Sometimes with fatal consequences.

It is no longer about individual adventurers risking their lives to make a living from their work; There are now teams of engineers, physicists, technicians (and publicists) looking for the best solutions to the problems posed by years.

One hundred years later, history seems to be repeating itself, but not a hundred meters high, but a hundred kilometers. Competition between Richard Branson Y Jeff Bezos It has an air of circus air, although the circumstances are different. It is no longer about individual adventurers risking their lives to make a living from their work; There are now teams of engineers, physicists, technicians (and publicists) looking for the best solutions to the problems caused by flying out of the atmosphere. The goal, as then, is to offer an experience to an audience that is willing to pay for the privilege of “going into space.” But of course, five dollar tickets are no longer sold.

How expensive are bills, there is market. Not anymore in almost thirty million dollars paid to anonymous passengers who will accompany Bezose 20. This seems to be exaggerated, even if the amount goes to a non-profit foundation. Offer Virgin, for just over 200,000 euros, it is a bit more affordable. And the journey takes longer: an hour from takeoff to landing, compared to a quarter of an hour at Blue Origin, Bezos. About twenty Spaniards have already reserved a seat.

The economic viability of these companiesconsists of the use of renewable launchers and ships. The Unity Virgin is a rocket plane: it takes off hanging from the belly of another much larger transport, which frees it at an altitude of 15,000 meters and lands gliding like any ordinary plane. On the ground, with the exception of his double rudder, he could be mistaken for any private jet. As regards New Shepard that powers the Blue Origin capsule, it is a rocket without orbital capacity, but once its load is released, it can land gently on the ground again, stopping a fall with a single engine, and putting on four small legs to keep it upright. In both cases, the vehicle can be reused dozens of times.

One of the keys is that neither of the two spaceships reaches a speed of return comparable to that of astronauts. really. The orbital capsule flies on Mach 27 and, when it returns to the atmosphere, creates air friction on its surface with a temperature close to 3,000 ° C. In contrast, Virgin and Blue Origin do not exceed Mach 4 and therefore hardly require thermal protection.

Richard Branson during his flight last Sunday. The video shows Richard Branson’s flight. ABACA / GTRES

The case of capsules is different Space X (Elona Muska Company). They are emitted by much more powerful nozzles that allow them to enter orbit, with all the problems and measures that result. Rockets and capsules are also reusable. In fact, sending astronauts or cargo to a space station is almost common.

Musk also did not want to miss the space tourism train. The flight of capsules is scheduled for mid-September Dragon occupied (and funded) by the user Jared Isaacman, who is not only a multimillionaire (estimated at 38 years to have assets of more than $ 2,000 million without finishing high school), but also an experienced pilot, a world speed record holder. So much so that Elon Musk had no problem controlling one of his spaceships. The dream of every aviation fan. Although it is not very appropriate to qualify as amateur someone whose one company owns a hundred military aircraft.

Isaacman travels with four companions who are one way or another related to the children’s hospital in Memphis, which has already received additional donations from the millionaire. The price of the five tickets was not disclosed, but can be estimated from what SpaceX charges NASA for each non-ISS astronaut: $ 55 million.

All five, a week in orbit. Unlike what happened twenty years ago with Dennis Titus (the first full-fledged space tourist) and other pioneers in this field will not visit the space station. But they will have plenty of time to enjoy the views that are literally “from this world.”

Rafael Clemente He is an industrial engineer and was the founder and first director of the Museum of titleonly in Barcelona (now CosmoCaixa). He is the author of the book The Little Step for [un] man (Dome Books).

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